In this guide to DIY camp shoes, we show you how to make a simple pair of slip-on sandals out of an old foam sleeping pad. You can pick up foam pads at thrift stores for a dollar or two and once complete they will weigh less than anything else available on the market.
Guide to DIY Camping Shoes
In planning for my next long-distance thru-hike I was looking for a second pair of footwear to wear on an evening and give my feet a rest from my boots. I have always used Teva’s and Sanuks in the past but after weighing all my individual items I thought that 400 grams was a significant amount that could be reduced. Enter DIY Camp Shoes.
I looked into barefoot shoes, kevlar socks, more lightweight sandals, trail running shoes, and camping slippers but everything was either still too heavy or too expensive. I started looking around online and discovered people had started making their own DIY camp footwear out of old foam camping mats. Seeing as how I have an old camping mat just taking up space in the garage I thought I would give it a go and make a lightweight small camping seat with the spare foam.
DIY Camp Sliders Vs String Sandals
There are two basic types of camp shoes you can make from a foam sleeping pad without any prior experience or craft skills. The first design is the slider-style flip-flop that only uses the foam mat and duct tape, which is what I ultimately settled on. The second option is a thong-style sandal that uses cordage to make a loop for your big toe and heel.
String sandals with a heel loop stay on your feet better and so potentially could be used river crossings and even walking short distances. Personally, though, I find these quite uncomfortable to wear and find the string cuts into my skin too much, especially after a long day of hiking with tender feet. DIY camp sliders are much more comfortable and slipper-like however they aren’t the best for walking in and are less easy to repair.
How to Make Camping Shoes
I decided to make sliders as I’m not a fan of the thong-style sandal and especially if it is made from string. Here is my 1st attempt at making them and although they look pretty stupid, they are surprisingly comfortable and wearable. I will be making version 2.0 next week that is just slightly wider and shaped a little differently.
Step 1: Choose your mat
The type of camping mat you need is a closed-cell foam mat. These are the cheapest and most common camping mats you will find at any outdoor shop and literally only cost a couple of bucks. The mat I chose was an extra deep mat that just so happened to have a tread-like surface on the bottom. You should avoid going too thin for both comfort and durability. I am confident that the mat I chose is thick enough to provide decent protection.
Step 2: Draw an outline using a stencil
For this, I used my Sanuks which are very wide-fitting but incredibly comfy. Using a marker pen I drew around the outside of the sandal. If I were to do this again I would maybe stencil around my foot or inner sole instead to get a closer fit. You still need to have a generous width for the top strap to work. I will only be working on the first shoe until I get to step 6 so don’t do this for both feet just yet.
Step 3: Add the wings
Once you have your stencil outlined on your foam mat you can free-hand the wings into the design. To do this I placed my foot in the center of the outline and imagined where I would like the strap to sit on my foot. I decided that I would want it to come at a bit of an angle and be quite wide for strength and to make sure it stayed on my foot.
You can use something small and rectangular as a stencil or just roughly line up the two flaps. It is important to allow more length than you need and chop it down to fit after step 4. I found that if you make rounded corners as opposed to angular corners on the straps, they fit better and don’t seem as weak.
Step 4: Cut around the outline
Use a strong pair of large scissors or a craft knife on a protected surface to neatly cut around the outline you made. This can be quite tricky to maneuver but just take your time and know that you can tidy up any rough cuts once you have got all the way around.
Step 5: Cut the straps to size
For this, you will need to place your foot in the shoe and figure out how much you need to trim off the straps. To cut the straps to size just take little bits off at a time so that you don’t go too far and have to start again from step 1. They should meet in the middle of your foot and have a close-fitting joint that is equal in width and angle. Once you are happy that the straps are the correct length and they fit together tidily you are ready for step 6.
Step 6: Use this as a reverse outline for your other shoe
To make your second DIY camp shoe you simply need to flip the one you just made over and draw around the outline as a stencil. This might not make a difference for you but because one side of my mat had a textured grip on it I just needed to be careful to make sure this would be the sole side on the second also. Once you have outlined your second sandal you can go ahead and cut it out.
Step 7: Tape them together
Next, you need some good-quality duct tape to wrap around the straps and sole of the sandal. I did about 4 wraps around the shoe and made sure to keep the joint as neat and tight as I could make it whilst I was wrapping. And voila, you have yourself an ultralightweight pair of camping slippers for less than a dollar in materials.
Step 8: Tidy up the edges
Once you have tried the finished sandals on you decide if you want to cut any excess mat off and tidy up the edges. It is much easier to get a smooth edge when you are not wrestling with the rest of the mat so I always like to leave this step to the very end. Once you are totally happy with the fit and design, it is time to weigh them.
What I Learned Making My Own DIY Camp Shoes
- One takeaway I did get was that slider-style camp shoes made from foam matting offer a surprising amount of warmth on a night which is great in cold weather.
- Something else I learned was that you can always trim more off at the end but you can never add more on so take your time and take small pieces off at a time. Once you have worn them for a short period you will discover how your foot sits on the sole and so then trim it down appropriately instead of making uneducated guesses at the beginning.
- Be prepared to fail on your first try. A camping mat is typically 2 meters long and around 70 cm wide so that gives you lots of material to work with. Try and be as efficient as possible by drawing your outlines as close to the edge as possible.
- They will only be good for one thing, chilling at camp. Don’t expect your DIY sandals to be used for any actual walking or bushcraft, that’s what boots are for, instead think of them like slippers that you only wear around the house (campsite).
- You don’t have to spend a fortune on lightweight gear, sometimes you can Maguiver yourself something far better suited to your needs with things you have lying around your house.
How Much Do DIY Camp Shoes Weigh?
The camping sandals I made weigh an unbelievable 50 grams. I couldn’t find anything remotely close to this after hours of online searching and lengthy forum threads. The fact that they save me 350 grams without really costing me a penny is the main reason I wanted to share this guide on DIY camp shoes with you. If you found it useful and decided to give it a go yourself, let me know in the comments or contact page.